Posts Tagged 'society'

Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial

What would it take to make society better? Rowland Atkinson, Lisa McKenzie and Simon Winlow, co-editors of the new book Building better societies, discuss some of the obstacles we face in trying to improve society. 

Rowland Atkinson

Lisa McKenzie

Simon Winlow

Social researchers spend so much time investigating the problems of inequality, crime, poverty and ill-health that they rarely have time to step outside these painful realities to engage in the kinds of utopian, creative and counter-intuitive thinking that can change entire academic fields.

We are encouraged, more than ever before, to be ‘policy relevant’, and the space and time needed to identify new and imaginative routes forward is diminishing with every passing year.

Many of us act in ways that are self-disciplining, if not self-defeating. We make careful pre-judgements about who will listen to us, and this often prevents us from making proposals or running ideas that might make the world – dare we say it – a better place. Given the sheer scale of the problems we face today – unparalleled inequality, ecological crisis and deep economic and political uncertainty – the role, and perhaps the duty, of social researchers is to draw on their evidence and intervene effectively in helping social conversations about the issues that really matter.

Continue reading ‘Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial’

Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society?

The official launch of Peter Beresford’s book taking place this evening as part of an engaging debate on the future of the welfare state by an impressive panel of speakers including John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

We asked Peter to kick start thinking about the issue by sharing his thoughts on why he felt All our welfare was a book that needed to be written….

Beresford image“I wanted to take a fresh look at the post-war welfare state, particularly from the perspectives of people on the receiving end, as a case study of social policy.

What was wrong with it, could it be improved? I wanted to see how well modern neo-liberal social policy lived up to its claims of improving on state welfare. But most of all, I wanted to explore what social policy might look like and how it might be secured, which was truly participatory and involved us in all our diversity in improving our well-being –the cross-party mantra of modern public policy.

And because my concern here, as in all my work, has been with ‘user involvement’ and ‘citizen participation’, I wanted to do this in a participatory way; engaging with experiential as well as ‘expert’ or professional knowledge, drawing on my own, my family’s and many other people’s experience as welfare service users.

The reader will be the judge of how well this task has been tackled. But it led me to a realization that there was a key question facing modern social policy, that barely seems to have been articulated, let alone addressed in all the discussions, developments and reforms that have been taking place.

“‘welfare’ has in some mouths become a dirty word…”

Continue reading ‘Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society?’

Are the first cuts the deepest?

What has happened as far as the tally of injustice goes since the election results came out? For a start the election made one of the graphs in Injustice: Why social inequality persists look slightly out of date. As predicted the Conservative segregation index rose even higher than before. If you have a copy of the book turn to page 175 and put an extra dot in the margin, where 2010 would be, at a height of 16.4%. What happened was that on May 6th 2010 the greatest swings towards the Conservatives occurred in the seats where they were most popular to begin with. This is a symptom of a still dividing country, but it is also a quite inefficient way to increase your support. Thus the Tories did not manage to secure an overall majority. They increased their vote most in the seats they already held. In some of the poorer parts of Britain, and especially in Scotland, the votes for Labour actually increased. The Liberals were squeezed out and lost seats in the middle of this polarisation. They ended up sharing power as no one could rule without them.

Today we saw the beginnings of what this increased political polarisation means, the very first cuts were announced. Among them George Osborne declared the demise ever slowly slightly redistributive Child Trust Fund, cutting payments of £320 million in 2010 and £520 million a year from 2011-2012. In the fund’s place he announced new funding of an almost charitable nature: An extra £20 million each year from 2011 being spent on addition respite care, 8000 one week long breaks for severely disabled children.

What you should expect is much more of this. Cutting something which is actually redistributive and replacing it with something that costs only a tenth as much and is useful but tokenistic – aimed at the most ‘deserving’ of cases. Thus some 4000 council houses will be built; a paltry number, but just enough to salve a few consciences. It would be very better to reduce the wealth of the richest so many gave up their spare homes which others could then use. Similarly, there would have been no need for a Child Trust Fund in the first place had income differential not widened under New Labour.

Other cost cutting is also indicative of what kind of the world the Conservative-Liberal coalition would like to see emerge. David Laws, the Liberal Chief Secretary to the treasury, suggested that the £45 million annual first class travel by public servants should be curtailed. This is good, but far better not to be running train carriages designed for different social classes into the twenty-first century in the first place. It is far simpler just to begin to abandon first class tickets for anyone, and the kind of thing a country that has just become a great deal poorer might have to begin to think of doing (to use track space more efficiently). Would David Cameron’s dream of a big society still have first and second class travel, with just public sector workers, students, families and lower private sector management and anyone else not quite like him in ‘economy’? I worry that is their dream. Too many still want a more unequal world.

Daniel Dorling, author of Injustice: Why social inequality persists

Challenging choice in society

Following the recent discussion on the Today programme about choice in society (listen again here), Michael Clarke, author of the forthcoming Challenging choices, writes:

Choices proliferate in every corner of our lives, not just in the supermarket, the clothing shop and online, but in the knowledge, techniques and drugs available in medicine, in the options for savings and investments, in building our short or long term relationships, in how we bring up our children. Compared to those suffering poverty, authoritarian government and patriarchal family life we are surely privileged and have achieved mighty progress over the past centuries. Choice is central to our way of life and empowers and enables us.

So can we never have too much choice? Is it always a benefit? At some point each of us will be overwhelmed at having to choose between too many alternatives, or at having to make too many choices in sequence. We routinise, have habits, have favourite brands, leave it up to others, to alleviate these problems, but the issue returns.

Not all choices are easy: try choosing a pension arrangement unless there is a good occupational scheme available to you. The consequences of a choice may be severe and yet the responsibility rests firmly with the chooser. And choice does not always work. Do we really have a choice of train operators, or merely regional monopoly, high prices and ticketing confusion? Surely there are other ways? But is that not in itself a bit of a contradiction: other and better ways than choice?

What do you think? Is more choice always better? What are the alternatives and are they necessarily any better? We’d love to hear your views, so please add your comments to the discussion.


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